Dr Peter Clayton presented the winners with the unique and beautiful floating trophies and framed certificates at a small ceremony on 23 November 2016.*
*The usual celebratory function (scheduled for 29 September) was unfortunately cancelled due to protest action.
Winners' efforts to promote sustainability are acknowledged in the Rhodes University graduation booklet and on the Environmental Awards Honours Roll.
More about the winners:
Professor Brian Allanson and Mrs Louw Claassens: This individual award is unique in that it is shared by two people – a young RU Postgrad Researcher and a retired RU Professor – who work together as one. Their nomination is based on tangible evidence of meeting all the required criteria:
1. Good sustainability practice
2. Track record
3. Participation, inspiration & empowerment
Their practices are informed by a social-ecological interpretation of sustainability – recognising the integral relationship between human well-being and environmental health, and promoting practices and actions that benefit both the social sphere and the biophysical environment.
One of the main aims of their project has been to identify threats to estuaries and wetlands, draw in the local and wider community in conducting regular environmental monitoring programmes, and to promote sustainable utilization of natural resources while protecting a national biodiversity ‘treasure’.
The nominees have an impressive track record of voluntary environmental work. Through their activities they have created and developed an organisation – the Knysna Basin Project – funded in part by Rhodes University. The project was initiated by Professor Allanson 21 years ago, and with the arrival of Mrs Claassens as a PhD student in 2013, the project has gained additional energy and momentum.
They have developed strong community participation in environmental activities that promote environmental awareness, inspire the younger generation, and empower them through education and participation. In the past, there was little public awareness of the environmental issues in the Knysna Estuary, and a lot of misinformation, but with access to accurate information, the communities are now much better informed.
The nominees have initiated a sustainable environmental monitoring programme – allowing the project to quickly identify problems (e.g. entry points where nutrient-rich waste water is polluting the estuary) so the municipality can take action.
They have also created a sustainable educational venture that is going from strength to strength. They adopted a School Eco Club to strengthen educational awareness programmes and set the course towards long-term sustainability. They host a local high school every year, teaching them ecological methods and how to investigate different types of habitats. They also host fun and educational outings every few months – which are open to all. Furthermore, environmental tours are increasingly being requested by groups of international visitors – including students from the USA-based Wildlands Programme, who were taught environmental monitoring methods and assessing different habitats.
Earlier this year, the nominees joined the annual Rotary event, Know Your Town, giving local children a chance to learn about the importance of the estuary, the impact of marine litter, and what can be done to help. In the last three years the nominees have made important contributions to Marine Week and the Knysna Arts Festival. They have organised several clean-ups, which highlight how human activities can impact aquatic systems – involving local divers, scholars and the wider community. An innovation this year was the Artful Waste Challenge – aimed at raising awareness of marine litter by using the collected litter to create artworks focused on marine conservation. This is set to become a ‘must do’ on the annual Oyster Festival programme.
The nominees have featured on radio interviews, film and the 50/50 programme on TV. They regularly give talks to various groups, and produce two newsletters per year, which are circulated to the project members. They also participate in various environmental decision-making forums.
Professor Allanson has played a great role in mentoring his younger environmental partner, to ensure continuity and sustainability of the environmental program. An instrument technician is also being trained and mentored, as part of the Knysna Environmental Monitoring Platform (KEMP). A project management committee – formed in 1995 – helps ensure the continuation and sustainability of the project. And SAN Parks, members of the public and local Municipality contribute to running the project, on a voluntary basis. Regular meetings are held so members can report back on achievements, ensure that programmes have been implemented, and discuss future activities.
Both individuals have very close past and present links with Rhodes University... and there is little doubt that their community appreciates the role played by Rhodes in their project. Their work, which is done on a completely voluntary basis, has helped raise the profile of the university, attracting the interest of national and international groups. They certainly deserve the university’s recognition of their efforts.
Amina Cachalia Residence: This student residence has consistently shown a heart for promoting sustainability, and has undertaken environmentally friendly activities for many years. It is noteworthy that they have been consistent supporters of the RMR Makana Green Fun Run, and for the last three years have won the prize for the biggest res team. This year, 25 of the 88 students paid and participated in the event, and many more donated money to the cause. They enter into the spirit of the event, creating a painted banner and various smaller signs – all with green messages. They will continue to use the banner every year to encourage activity in community-based environmental events, and promote sustainable practices.
Within the res, a number of tangible environmental initiatives are led every year by the serving Environmental Rep, with assistance and participation by other res students. This year, a ‘Rethink the Bag’ initiative was launched to make people aware of the amount of litter in South Africa, and how a large percentage of that – the ubiquitous plastic bag – could be reduced. Re-usable bags were made freely available in the res for students to take shopping and then return the bags afterwards. A Ted Talk by Hayley McLellan was shared on the res Facebook page to explain why this was important. Student feedback indicated that the project was well-accepted: they found it easy to change a small part of their lifestyle, with the satisfaction of making a big difference.